Some Solutions to the Workforce Development Crisis: How to Attract and Retain the Very Best People


Group of workers at a construction

“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.” Anne M. Mulcahy

 

Workforce development has reached a crisis level. The number of projects moving forward continues to increase, and worker demand (labor and management) continues to rise. That, along with the dwindling workforce, is already negatively impacting the industry. If we don’t take concrete steps now, this workforce development crisis has the potential to cripple the industry.

There are many factors that have created this crisis.   Krantz’s job ranking survey regularly ranks construction jobs at the bottom. Our industry image is not good.  It is viewed as dirty and difficult.  We don’t treat our workers as well as other industries do, and we don’t offer very many befits like paid vacation and healthcare.  We also have an issue with diversity and inclusion.

There are some very good long term initiatives such as the ACE mentor program and outreach to high schools.  But what should companies do in the short term?  Consider the fact that to fill a position, it costs anywhere from two to three times the annual salary.  For someone making $75,000 per year, that’s $225,000!

There are some very concrete steps companies can take to attract and retain the very best people:

  1. Let them control their own destiny:

If you want to attract and retain people, give them as much autonomy as possible. Give them the ability to set their own work schedules and work the way that they want to work. This may be difficult with some projects, but there is always room to experiment. Many companies are toying with flexible work hours and ROWE (results oriented work environments).

  1. Provide a Clear Career Path and Training to Get There

All workers, especially young workers, want a clear career path and the resources to attain the skills to be able to make it happen. If your company doesn’t have clear career paths for all employees, and the skills training needed to travel along those paths, this is the time to implement a program. If you are an individual, and your company doesn’t have this career path/training in place, let them know that it is important to you. Get the ball rolling and ask them to provide it. Obviously, they value training or you wouldn’t be enrolled in this course!

  1. Make Sure Employees Know Your Why

Employees, especially younger ones, want to have a sense of purpose in their life and work.

What is your company’s purpose? What is the project’s purpose?  Do you articulate that and communicate it clearly on a regular basis?  Every company and every project has a purpose.  Tap into the purpose with your employees.

  1. Make Their Lives Better

This is a simple concept, but perhaps not that easy. If you make your employees’ lives better, they will be more loyal to your company. So how do you do that?  There are two areas that we see that can make your employees’ lives better.  1.  Improve their finances.  Hire someone to come in and help people set up budgets and pay off debt.  2.  Improve their health and well-being. Start a wellness program (formal or informal) and help them to be healthier and happier.

  1. Create a Fun Place to Work

I usually get pushback from this concept of creating a fun place to work. To many people in the AEC industry, work and fun just doesn’t go together. So what can you do as an individual and a company to infuse more fun in your work, on your projects, and in your offices? Put in games, have contests, have laugh time, start every meeting out with something fun, and promote and encourage fun ideas of team, collaboration, and play.

Some of these ideas are pretty far out for folks in the AEC Industry.  But if we don’t start embracing these kinds of changes, this workforce development issue will only worsen. Embrace these new ideas. Company leaders tell me that they can’t try the flexible work initiative because some people will just sit at home and watch television. So what they are doing is punishing the 90% who will actually honor this open way of working. If you are a company, push the envelope and start trying these new ideas. If you are an individual, be strategically subversive. Try some things and see if you get a good result. When you do, share it with the company.

Whether it is for you, your company, or for the AEC industry, how we attract and retain people to the industry is vital to our livelihoods and the very industry in which we work. It’s time to take some action.

I have a personal story about recruiting. My nineteen-year-old nephew had dropped out of high school. He wasn’t a good student in the traditional sense, and he didn’t like school. He had no intentions of going to college. But since he was a small child, he loved trucks and big equipment.  He said he wanted to be an equipment operator. I told him he should probably get his GED before trying to go to operator’s school. (Most of those schools require a high school diploma or equivalent.) He took the GED several times, but couldn’t pass the tests. He soon started working as a bus boy for minimum wage. He gained weight. He was depressed and languishing in a low paying job.

I asked him if he would like to start as a laborer on a construction project until he could pass the GED. He said he did. I made a call and got him a job with Batson Cook in Atlanta—making double what he was making as a bus boy. As soon as he started working, he knew that this was his calling. He loved going to the project each day. He’s a big, strong kid and very conscientious and reliable. And they loved him. He is very smart, and very capable with equipment. It’s intuitive for him. Whenever they had trouble with a piece of equipment, he could figure out what was going on. It’s a shame that our education system doesn’t recognize that kind of “smart.”

In just over six months, they gave him a raise, and there was talk of making him a foreman. My guess is that there are tens of thousands of young people out there in the same boat, who would love to be part of this wonderful business. All we have to do is reach out to them.

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